On The String: Ron Pope’s Nimble Negotiation Of Art And Commerce

Mar 27, 2020

“We never intended to make ourselves the poster children for independence or anything like that. It’s honestly been out of necessity,” says singer songwriter Ron Pope in the new episode of The String. He’s not using some flouncy royal “we” when asked to talk about the strategies and tactics that have made him one of the more successful independent roots artists at work today.

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH RON POPE HERE.

 

Chiefly, there’s his wife and manager Blair Clark. “We’re business partners, and we’re working on the art together,” Pope says. “She’s not a musician, but she did executive produce the new album and has influenced what we’re putting out into the world a great deal. So there’s no clear delineation in my home between the art that we’re creating and the business. We want to be creative and open to trying new things.” 

Working through a small team of their in-house Brooklyn Basement Records, Pope’s been ahead of the curve on social media, streaming, lyric videos, you name it. And it’s helped his emotional brand of songwriting reach more fans than the average DIY artist. 

Metrics don’t often come up in my commentary on artists, because there’s frankly only the loosest correlation and even less causation between being exceptional and doing tons of business. But when we see an artist consistently getting it right with marketing trends and earning more and more freedom by dint of a supportive fan base, it’s worth paying attention to. Pope’s formula, which dates back to working MySpace in the mid 2000s, has allowed him to be as prolific as he feels like being, to change his musical stripes and try new sounds and to sometimes carrying a full horn section on the road, something many artists find too expensive. According to Pope’s team, he’s sold nearly 100,000 albums on his own and racked up 240,000 followers and almost 400 million streams on Spotify. 

“The audience has been very kind. They believe in the idea that we’re going to work on this together,” he says.

Of course, there’d be no indie music business case study without relatable music. Pope has impressive range, from pop balladry to acoustic front porch folk to rock and roll and fervent soul. And he touches on just about all that in his newest project, Bone Structure. It’s emotionally potent material, conceived as a series of missives to and about his daughter, who was born in 2018. “I decided I would write songs to talk about how I look at the world,” he says. “It’s a variety of stories, but they’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. I’m speaking to my daughter.”

 

That creates an arc and a cohesiveness even as Pope dips into multiple genres. “Habits” drifts along over dobro, accordion and a fiddle chop as Pope sings about the gulf between the uselessness of what one belives next to what one does. “Practice What I Preach” touches similar subject matter, pushing himself to be a better father, over a stirring and swirling horn section and grooves inspired by Steve Cropper. The title track of Bone Structure shines a flashlight around the memories of a relationship in piano ballad mode. “Wildest Dreams” is pure ardor from father to daughter. And there’s even a sharp soul jazz instrumental in the middle of the 15-song collection called “Ducky Groove.” 

Like everybody else, Pope suspended his album release tour when the coronavirus hit and is doing a series of online shows he’s calling Live And In Sweatpants. The next one is Saturday at 7:30 pm central time. More details here and at Ron Pope’s website.